‘We’re not bluffing’: Basin plan is ‘dead’ if Senate rejects amendments, say Niall Blair and Lisa Neville

Both NSW and Victoria had threatened to review their commitment to the Council - which comprises of Basin state and federal government representatives - as federal Labor and the Greens prepare to block an amendment to reduce water recovery targets in the northern basin by 70GL.
Both NSW and Victoria had threatened to review their commitment to the Council - which comprises of Basin state and federal government representatives - as federal Labor and the Greens prepare to block an amendment to reduce water recovery targets in the northern basin by 70GL.

UPDATED 10.20am: NSW and Victoria have threatened to withdraw from the Murray Darling Basin Plan – should Federal Labor back a disallowance motion in the Senate this week – and establish their own tripartite agreement with the Federal government to deliver 605GL worth of offset projects.

NSW regional water minister Niall Blair and Victorian counterpart Lisa Neville met today to discuss the states’ options if amendments to reduce water recovery targets in the northern basin by 70GL are voted down. 

Asked if he was blowing up the plan, Minister Blair said rejecting the amendments in the Senate would mean “the Basin Plan (did) not exist”. He said the disallowance motion was a ‘mongrel act’.

“We need to make this very clear, the Murray Darling Basin Plan was agreed to in 2012,” Mr Blair said. 

“NSW and Victoria have met every one of their deadlines according to the plan and we have agreed principles.

“And that has sometimes been to the detriment and despite the best advice from our communities. This is the Senate potentially saying, despite having a deal… we’re going to play politics with the environment and viability of our regional communities and toss it all on the scrapheap just because of what is happening in South Australia.” 

Ms Neville said NSW and Victoria had “committed to the heavy lifting” while “SA had focuses on (the upcoming state) election”. 

“It’s very rare to see Labor and National governments to come together and share a point of view,” she said. But we are here because of our communities.” 

“If the senate is to block these amendments, the Plan is dead. There is no bluff here.”

When asked about why she was at odds with her SA and Federal Labor colleagues, Ms Neville said she was putting Victorian communities first. 

Both Mr Blair and Ms Neville said they would commit to delivering the Sustainable Diversion Limit projects that were on the table, regardless of the vote in the Senate. 

“We’ve discussed about how we are going to go together to get the funding we need to deliver those projects,” Ms Neville said. 

Earlier: THE already rocky politics of the Murray-Darling Basin look set for more turbulence with speculation NSW and Victoria could walk away from the Basin Ministerial Council.

NSW’s Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair and Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville have announced a press conference at 10am in Sydney to discuss the “future of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.”

Both had threatened to review their commitment to the Council - which comprises of Basin state and federal government representatives - as federal Labor and the Greens prepare to block an amendment to reduce water recovery targets in the northern basin by 70GL.

“If this disallowance motion is successful, it forces NSW to reconsider its ongoing participation in Ministerial Council, because we can no longer trust it to deliver a balanced economic, social and environmental result for the Basin,” Mr Blair said last week.

Progress on interstate agreement on how to deliver the upwater goal ground to a halt at a meeting of basin state ministers in November last year,

SA’s Water Minister Ian Hunter  demanded NSW and Victoria commit to deliver 450GL in full by February 14.

That’s deadline for the Opposition and Crossbench to pass a disallowance motion against the Northern Basin Review, backed by NSW and Queensland because it would reduce water recovery in that region from 390GL to 320GL.

Related

Mr Hunter said he would lobby Senators to block passage of Northern Basin amendments.

SA’s deadline was rejected. NSW Water Minister Niall Blair said “all bets are off” on cooperative negotiations and NSW would “chance our arm in the Senate”.

Anticipating a NSW-Victoria withdrawal from the Ministerial Council, Sydney-based environment group the Nature Conservation Council said the federal government must step in and deliver the plan on time and in full.  

“The Murray Darling Basin Plan doesn’t just go away because NSW spits the dummy and pulls out of the Ministerial Council,” said Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski.

“Under the legislation, the Commonwealth has the power to step in to ensure the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is implemented on time and in full.”

- with Mike Foley